More Minneapolis homeowners and apartment dwellers are improving the energy efficiency of their homes as the city wraps up its first year of a new program with local utilities.
Representatives from the city, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy met throughout the year to set up the Clean Energy Partnership, a shared effort to help Minneapolis meet goals on energy use, carbon emissions and other efficiency goals. While each member of the partnership had previously been operating programs like home energy audits, they are now reaching a broader audience and seeing an uptick in participation.
Over the past year, the number of “Home Energy Squad” visits in Minneapolis — consultations provided by utilities on how to make a home more efficient — went up by 52 percent. Requests for free low-flow shower heads and aerators nearly doubled, from 2,670 in 2014 to more than 4,700 by mid-December 2015.
Rebecca Virden, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy, said linking the efforts in small ways, like putting information about utilities’ energy programs in residents’ water bills, has made a big difference.
“We sent out bill inserts about our free low-flow shower heads all the time,” she said. “But once the city put it in the water bill we saw a big uptick.”
Much of the focus in the first year of the partnership has been on multifamily residential buildings, which often get less attention from groups offering energy help.
“Oftentimes, the landlord is the one who decides to make investments, but the landlord is not the one to see the reduced bills,” said Laura McCarten, regional vice president for Xcel Energy.
In October, the Clean Energy Partnership launched a new program for owners of buildings with at least five units. It aims to show more building owners why it’s worth their while to make improvements.
The program provides a free audit, free installation of low-flow shower heads and energy efficient lighting in some areas of the building and financial incentives for making costlier upgrades. McCarten said the program is also available in other areas of the state. The utilities hoped to provide audits to 60 buildings in the last few months of 2015 and another 100 buildings next year — goals they now expect they’ll surpass.
The city is also doing more to make low-income residents aware that they could qualify for free home audits and subsidized upgrades. In the last four months of the year, more than 140 homes received subsidized energy audits.
More work ahead
In 2016, the Clean Energy Partnership will also turn its attention to commercial buildings and a variety of other efforts. Among them: converting many of the city’s streetlights to more efficient LED bulbs. Mayor Betsy Hodges’ original budget called for $400,000 to convert 900 lights — a move expected to save the city about $113,000 per year. A last-minute budget move shifted $105,000 of that funding to a new police training program.
Officials also hope to boost the number of people participating in solar gardens, which are sites where people can subscribe to get use of solar panels, and then use that energy to cut the cost of their bills.
All of the work is aimed at helping the city with its Climate Action Plan, which calls for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.
The plan, adopted in 2013, also called for a 15 percent reduction by 2015.
Brendon Slotterback, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said the final numbers won’t be ready until late 2016, but it appears the city is on a “good trajectory.”
He said the partnership is helping the city and the utilities to make progress just by making people aware that they can do something to influence those numbers.
“It is a challenge — [people] have other things to do, and making energy efficiency more at the top of their mind is one of the big tasks for the partnership,” he said.